Maui wildfire horror finds Edmonton travel agent aiding escaping clients

The latest images and information coming out of Maui, where wildfires have devastated life for residents and visitors, come as a shock to those watching the situation unfold from Edmonton.

“The pictures are just overwhelming,” said Hidar Elmais, an Edmonton travel agent whose team at Travel Gurus has been keeping in touch with clients who’ve travelled to the popular Pacific destination and are caught in the chaos.

“Mostly we’re getting people ferried over to Honolulu and then getting them out of that country as soon as possible,” Elmais said.

The blaze has already claimed at least 53 lives, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in five years, and more than 1,000 structures in the western community of Lahaina have been destroyed. Hawaii’s governor says the death toll is expected to keep rising. Officials expect the wildfire will be the state’s deadliest natural disaster since a 1961 tsunami killed 61 people on the Big Island.

The wildfire has disrupted transport in and out of Maui, with both Air Canada and WestJet saying they have implemented flexible rebooking or cancellation policies to help affected travellers.

The hall of historic Waiola Church in Lahaina and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission are engulfed in flames along Wainee Street on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Matthew Thayer/The Maui News via AP)

It’s been a scramble to ferry tourists away from the scene, including many Canadian travellers who spent 24 hours at the Maui airport before flights home became available.

“I just feel really bad for the locals there,” said Vladimir Stelkic, a Calgary resident who managed to leave Maui. “I feel guilty almost that we left and they’re there.”

Katie O’Connor is one of those locals. She and her husband moved to Maui from Calgary two years ago, and took possession of a new home just two weeks ago.

“Everybody knows someone that’s missing or affected – directly affected,” O’Connor said.

In Edmonton, Elmais expects the impact of the disaster will be felt for a “very long time.” For now, he’s telling clients who are booked to travel to Maui to stay patient while officials in the communities there that depend on tourism to drive their economy assess the damage.

“We’re going to be ready to support them by sending the tourists back as soon as they’re ready,” Elmais said.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson and The Canadian Press



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